Zhao Shen gazed down at the sprawling city beneath him, his pulse quietly speeding up. Compared to the other targets he had been sent to attack in the past, this city was by far the largest. There were definitely powerful cultivators in a city as large as this, the Final Fire clan had probably stationed one of their own men here to take care of things.
He would be lying if he said that he wasn't nervous, but he had already accepted the assignment so he couldn't exactly just leave. The matriarch would not look kindly on that, it would probably lead to a drastic decrease in the number of assignments he would get. His particular abilities were useful, but he didn't doubt that the matriarch would be able to find someone that could replace him. And if she had to do that then there was even a chance that she might erase him, he knew a bit too much after all.
"Alright, everyone else ready?"
He knew the precariousness of his situation so he had no choice but to accept it, his ashen pupils sliding sideways and landing on the companions that had been assigned to follow him. This was a big target, so the state of his party reflected it. Not only had the matriarch sent the Dread Dreamer with him, but she had also sent along several tens of lower-ranked personnel. Even the World Tree clan had sent over a few people to increase their odds of success.
One such person was Saryn Chariel, Zhao Shen was told that she used to be a commander in the World Tree clan's army. Her presence greatly eased his worries, as she had already reached the early-stage of the Heavenly Deity realm, she would be able to deal with just about everything the Final Fire clan might throw their way.
"Ready, just let me know when to drop the camouflage and then we'll start the attack."
The one who answered his question was the Dread Dreamer, Jue Langye, her somewhat narrow green eyes sweeping the city beneath them while her brows furrowed softly. Zhao Shen almost felt like sighing a breath of relief, at least he wasn't the only one nervous about their current mission.
"Good. Don the disguises. Remember, the less time we waste, the better."
Zhao Shen swiped his belt, a transparent mask as thin as a cicada's wing appearing in his grasp. The other members also brought out similar masks and put them on, their bodies and auras changing the moment the masks covered their faces. Zhao Shen grew a bit taller, his ashen eyes turning a lifeless grey while his golden hair turned a dark and gleaming violet. Jue Langye's appearance also changed somewhat drastically, her body shrinking a bit while her green eyes turned light pink, her raven black hair shifting into all the colours of the rainbow.
The appearance of the other members also changed, but none of the changes were as noteworthy as his and Jue Langye's. After all, he had to play the role of the Nine Heavens Demon God while she had to play the role of the Dread Dreamer, it wouldn't be appropriate if the other members of the group become so noteworthy that they overshadowed them.
Zhao Shen inspected his own appearance to make sure that it was perfect, silently marvelling at the ability of the mask. The matriarch told him that it was an inferior version of something known as a Heaven Altering Mask, but the only inferiority he knew of was that these versions could only stay active for a limited duration before they needed to have their reserves refilled with energy.
He glanced sideways once more, the other members of the group silently nodding their head to show that their disguises were perfect. He then glanced at Jue Langye, who flicked her finger, the air around them shimmering as the illusory camouflage she had set up faded. Dense Qi immediately started to roll out from Zhao Shen's body, he didn't hold anything back as dark blue flames welled out, practically turning him into a meteor as he descended.
The defensive array of the city activated when it sensed his presence, but he burst straight through it and crashed into the streets below, throwing chunks of rapidly melting earth high into the air. The Qi that continued to rush out of his body was tinged with a certain demonic aura, a wolf that had a layer of brown scales beneath its fur appearing at his side.
The same type of scales and fur also spread on Zhao Shen's arms as the wolf appeared, his deep study of the law of demons was one of the reasons the matriarch offered him several assignments like this. He exhaled a long breath as the others landed behind him, the breath that escaped his mouth crackling with electricity that gathered together and formed an eagle composed entirely of azure lightning.
The eagle landed on his shoulder, Zhao Shen sweeping the surroundings with cold and sharp eyes. No matter how nervous he was, how worried he was, he had now taken on the role of the Nine Heavens Demon God, so he had to bury those emotions so deep that none could see them. The only thing he could show was pure force and savagery, it was his duty to intimidate and subdue all who met his eye.
"I can sense their auras over there, let's go."
Zhao Shen gently kicked off of the ground, shooting out of the crater his landing had caused and rushing directly for the prison. Fire and lightning danced in his wake, not even the buildings of the Final Fire clan able to resist the heat as they started to slowly melt behind him. The group left a trail of destruction in their wake, the sounds of commotion coming from the city already so loud that they were deafening.
"There. Dig them out."
The group quickly reached the prison since they had landed quite close to it, Zhao Shen cooly giving the order. One of the companions that had followed them heavily stomped the ground, the earth in front of the one-story circular building trembling furiously for a second before a large hole appeared. The walls of the building were revealed further down, showing that the prison was actually located underground, the one-story building was only an entrance. Zhao Shen raised his hand to throw out another order, but his gaze sharpened somewhat just as he was about to open his mouth.
"I'm guessing you're the city lord? Pretty rare to see a true-blooded Final Fire clan member so far away from your headquarters. Aren't they worried that they'll only get a head in return?"
Zhao Shen's gaze landed on a bright orange light that was shooting towards them, barreling directly through any buildings that stood in its path. He could see the person at the centre of the light, which was actually a ball of flame. The person surrounded by these flames had charcoal-like skin covered in deep orange veins, he had much more Final Fire clan blood in his veins than the other people in this city.
Zhao Shen also sensed the aura he radiated, he had probably also reached the early-stage of the Heavenly Deity realm. Zhao Shen himself was only at the middle stage of the Earthly Deity realm, but he didn't allow himself to show any fear as the blue-haired and orange-eyed man stopped in front of him, hovering in the air while glaring darkly at him.
"I guess I should be honoured, you actually sent out two Fiendlords to my city."
The man, Gandu Lauro's gaze slid past Zhao Shen and landed on the disguised Jue Langye, who was currently the spitting image of Guo Luo. He could feel that his cultivation was higher than theirs, but he also knew that the Nine Heavens Demon God and the Dread Dreamer weren't people who cared about something as insignificant as a difference in cultivation. And indeed, Zhao Shen didn't dare show a single trace of nervousness, displaying a cold playfulness as his body quietly soared into the air, his wolf companion rising with him.
"We prefer to be called Titans, it sounds nicer. And I wouldn't be honoured, we would have brought the Ghost General and Sword Apocalypse too if it wasn't for the fact that they were busy with their own targets. So just us two coming is closer to an insult, because just we will be enough."
Fiendlords, it was a title that the enemies of Titan's Gate had given to the seven founding members. Or at least, that was the public story, but Zhao Shen had heard from the Matriarch that she had given them a hand in spreading that title, she said that it suited her purpose. Zhao Shen's words could indeed be called quite prickly, but Gandu didn't spring into action, only narrowing his eyes so sharply that they almost became slits.
"Heh, taunt and stir up trouble, I was told that this was your modus operandi, but actually experiencing it certainly leaves a sour taste in the mouth."
He didn't move yet because his men were already moving into position, something that didn't slip past Zhao Shen and the others. They would have to be blind not to see the armoured guards quickly and silently surrounding them, just about every cultivator in the Earthly deity realm had been mobilized as quickly as possible for this. But Zhao Shen played his duty perfectly, simply shrugging his shoulders and gesturing towards the underground walls with one hand, the other hand stroking the head of the wolf at his side.
"You can feel whatever you want, I don't really care. So, are you going to be a good little boy and hand over the prisoners?"
He had burst into the city with all the grandeur of a falling star, but if he could finish the assignment without fighting then that would be for the best, at least for him. Besides, he knew that it was more important to intimidate than actually fight, if he could get the prisoners back without fighting then it would certainly add more credibility to his title.
"You really expect to resolve everything by just asking so snarkily?"
But how could Gandu possibly just let things go all that easily? He had been sent here by the Final Fire clan to take care of the city, if he just handed back prisoners, to the Nine Heavens Demon God no less, then he would lose more than just his position. Gandu's aura started to flare, the surrounding guards also unleashing their own energy as more and more of them gathered. Zhao Shen felt his chest tighten slightly, but casting a stealthy glance at the disguised Saryn allowed him to somewhat calm his heart.
"I mean, if we could save ourselves the trouble of having to kill the lot of you then that would be nice. So, will you hand them over?"
The corners of Zhao Shen's lips curved up slightly as he maintained his persona as best he could. He had played his part plenty of times before, but he didn't think that he would ever get used to acting so playfully cold, as if nothing was capable of entering his eyes.
"Heh, really really arrogant. We'll see if you hav...?"
Gandu's lips twitched slightly as he continued to glare darkly, but his voice trailed off just as he was about to give the order to attack. And the reason was actually quite simple, the sound of footsteps reached his ears. And it wasn't just his, Zhao Shen and the others also noticed the footsteps at the same time, it was as if each soft thud hammered against their chests. And as they all turned their heads, they spotted a group of three people casually walk out from a dark corner not far from them, as if they had always been there.
"What a paltry play. Was it Wan Yi who taught you those lines and how to act? It certainly falls in line with how she might see me."
Yao Jun stood at the forefront of the group of three, Sirius respectfully walking behind him while Zhuan Yi trailed at his side, amusedly looking at Zhao Shen and the others. Yao Jun's current gaze was quite dark and cold, because not only was he looking at imitations of himself and Guo Luo, but he had also heard a title that implied that it wasn't just his and Guo Luo's names that were being abused.
He spoke the words softly, but both Gandu and Zhao Shen instantly felt an immense pressure bear down on their shoulders. It was as if the space around them was rejecting their presence, both of them crashing down to the ground so heavily that the stone shattered beneath them.
The two of them heard multiple cracking sounds, Zhao Shen's senses telling him that not only Jue Langye and his other companions but even all the other guards around them had all been forced to their knees. The very weakest ones were even forced all the way down, their faces pressing down into the ground.
Zhao Shen's pupils trembled slightly as he did his best to look to the side, the man leading the group of three felt oh so familiar, but Zhao Shen couldn't quite put his finger on why. But that was only to be expected, very few people had seen Yao Jun's original appearance with black eyes and hair, and even his features had changed slightly due to the passage of time and battles he had engaged in.
Yao Jun slowly walked forward under the trembling gazes of everyone present, but he didn't walk up to Zhao Shen. He first walked up to the kneeling Jue Langye, who struggled to even raise her head thanks to the immense pressure that bore down on her. He stopped in front of her and placed his hand on her face, his voice dripping with such coldness that she couldn't help but shiver.
"You aren't worthy of looking like that."
Yao Jun bent his fingers, tearing the mask directly off of her face. But he wasn't exactly careful with the power he exerted, resulting in his fingers digging out small bloody paths in her face. Yao Jun looked at the transparent mask with a slightly dark expression, putting it away before finally turning towards Zhao Shen.
"But you made a bit of a mistake. I don't ask. If someone imprisons my comrades, then there's no point in wasting words on them, I'll just carve a path directly to them and drag them out."
Indeed, Yao Jun did not ask. If anyone made a move on his friends then that person's life was forfeit, there was no point in trying to waste time asking questions. Yao Jun started to head towards Zhao Shen, who only felt the pressure bearing down on his shoulders increase with each step Yao Jun took.
"Who... Who are... you...?"
It felt as if a mountain was bearing down on him, the force of Yao Jun's merged energy simply too much for him to bear. After all, not even Gandu or Saryn were able to remain standing, and they had already become Heavenly Deities, so there was no way the Earthly Deity Zhao Shen could remain standing. Yao Jun stopped in front of Zhao Shen, one of his eyebrows rising while his pupils slid towards Saryn.
"You've been using my name willy nilly, but aren't actually able to recognize me when you see me? Did Wan Yi not give you proper intel? You, however, you seem to recognize me."
Saryn almost felt her soul leave her body when Yao Jun's black pupils landed on her. And indeed, she did recognize him, so she was perhaps one of the only people present who knew how precarious their current situation was.
"Yes... Sir... I served in the army during the battle on Godpiercer planet. I had the misfortun... the great luck to be on a ship that was quite close to your position..."
She had gotten a front-row seat to the death of Godpiercer planet, she had seen the man in front of her push the second largest planet in this universe into ruin. With Saryn barely squeezing out the words, and coupled with Yao Jun's earlier statement, Zhao Shen and the others quickly realized what might just be the grim truth.
"Im...Impossible... This can't be real. The Matriarch said that you had already left!"
That was one of the reasons Zhao Shen had been willing to accept these assignments. If the actual Nine Heavens Demon God was still around then there was no way he would be so daring as to assume his identity for these missions, that could very well just be a death sentence.
"Oh, how good, you actually know things. So, how about you and I have a very nice chat, I am quite eager to hear more about this Dread Dreamer and the Sword Apocalypse."
Yao Jun's gaze settled on Zhao Shen again, his expression telling Zhao Shen that Yao Jun was far from happy at the moment. He reached out and grabbed onto Zhao Shen's throat, lifting him up into the air until his legs dangled. His eyes then slid over to Saryn once more, drilling into her and almost making her heart stop altogether.
"And you. You can tell Arthurius that I hope that he was a very good reason for taking part in this. And for his sake, I hope he can produce that reason faster than my thinning patience can reach its end."